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I am a DM and one of the PCs in my group bought five guard dogs. This has produced a couple of problems:

  • Gameplay: I'm handling the dogs' turns in combat since PCs don't get direct control over their animals. In our last session this led to the PCs waiting around for more time which they admitted they found a bit boring.

  • Game balance: The group is 5th-level. The dogs played a key part in combat, dealing extra damage and soaking up some hits.

How do you suggest I manage this situation?

Here are the solutions I have considered:

  • Make a sort of "Guard Dog Swarm." I could try to design the "swarm" so that it has better game balance and doesn't take as long to control as five separate dogs. My concern with this is that such a thing would still probably consist of four squares not tied together and thus still take a little while to move. Also, I want the "swarm" to be at least a bit consistent with being five dogs so game balance may still be an issue.
  • (From My ranger has tamed an absurd number of Animal Companions with Handle Animal) Make an appeal to logistics and tell the player he's only allowed two dogs or so. However, that question refers to many different and more exotic animals. I'm guessing that keeping five dogs around is still somewhat reasonable.
  • Do a better job of dealing with these dogs. Plan encounters where they will be ineffective or a hindrance. This alone doesn't cover how they slow down gameplay though.
  • In the name of the fun of the group, tell the player he can't have five dogs. This is the least desirable solution as I don't want to ban something without a decent in-world reason.

Additional Info

  • Game Balance: As to how the dogs are even surviving, for one, I mistakenly made them Riding Dogs (HP x2 over a normal Dog). For two, they have thus-far only been in a handful of (admittedly not well-designed) encounters. Finally, I admittedly have had a bad habit of babying my PCs.

    It would seem I must curb that habit.

  • Gameplay: I am already grouping the dogs' initiative but moving each token (using roll20) and tracking HP, conditons, etc. takes some time.

    Coupling the dogs more in general sounds like a good idea. Increased familiarity with roll20 (to find some good grouping features) would also likely help.

  • Logistics: We haven't been tracking logistics though I've mentioned that were it to matter we would (i.e. we're not tracking food but would if they went a long time without visiting a town).

    I could argue that more than two dogs will be too difficult.

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Honestly, I've always found anything more than one pet/companion/summon/whatever to be too much, I don't understand why everyone always lets their players have entire armies of companions and then is surprised when logistics come into play as unwieldy. –  Doc Jun 26 at 14:50
    
I had originally banned the practice but had no good in-game reason. I reversed the ban when a druid joined the group with an animal companion as I thought the ban was then unfair. Now if I put a ban or limit forward I would like a better reason than I had. –  Romojr50 Jun 26 at 16:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Enforce the Handle Animal Rules

Getting those dogs to do what they want requires a Handle Animal check (DC 10 and a move action if it's a trick). Each PC can only do that to one animal at a time. Otherwise, the dogs will just generally do whatever you as the DM want them to. That might mean they all swarm something, or it might mean they find the target frightening and run away from it.

Remember, animals will only normally attack other animals, humanoids, monstrous humanoids, and giants. The animal has to be specially trained and use two tricks to have an attack command against anything else.

Kill The Dogs

Unless these are advanced animals with bonus HD, Dogs have 6HP. At 5th level, one Fireball will wipe them all out (the Riding Dogs you gave the party have 13 HP, so their survival chances are better but it should still kill some of them and make the Handle Animal checks harder on the others due to being wounded), and since Dogs are pack animals and one PC can't direct five dogs to attack five different things in one turn, they're likely to not be that far apart.

A Barbarian with Cleave could make short work of them as well. I'm not saying to go far out of your way to kill them, but they're low HP targets in combat, and they make a good target to even the numbers in a fight for certain types of enemies. If none of them are dying in combat at this level, it would be pretty strange.

You could pretty easily make an encounter that would eliminate the dogs in a turn or two, at which point the party will have to decide if it's really worth spending money to buy new ones.

Alternately, you could kill one or two of them in an encounter (which should happen normally in EL 5+ encounters), and see if the party decides that having dogs that aren't up to higher end combat around is a good idea. Any animal lover characters wouldn't want to put animals in harms way that aren't up to it, and the more frugal characters wouldn't want to have something die when they could sell it for gold and get more value out of it.

Initiative Shortcut

When this happens in my game, I roll one initiative for all of a given type (all the Dogs in this case), and have them all move at the same time. That cuts down the annoyance a little bit.

I also don't put much thought into what they're doing. Dogs are animals, not tacticians. They will either do exactly what they're ordered to do, or they'll attack, or they'll not attack. They're not going to get fancy figuring out how to reposition themselves for optimum protection of the PCs. (The PCs would have to use Handle Animal commands to do that.)

As they only have one attack, the rolling should be pretty limited and so you can keep the pace up by acting quickly without thinking about what they're doing.

Party Logistics, As You Mentioned

Is the party carrying enough food for five dogs? Are you enforcing that? Caring for five dogs in real life is actually quite a lot of work, make them deal with that.

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I agree with most ideas here, but I have some reservations with "Kill the Dogs" - it's true that many level 5 challenges will be lethal for the dogs, and as a DM, you are certainly not supposed to tune-down the challenges so that the dogs survive. But, if the dogs are causing problems (their management is tedious, they're impacting balance, etc.), it's probably better to discuss this with the players rather than simply slay them - what if they hired 100 armed soldiers? imho it's better to prohibit that off-table than use (abuse?) your DM fiat to foil it in game... –  G0BLiN Jun 26 at 17:14
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@G0BLiN I don't really see it as DM fiat when you're using an encounter level appropriate attack on something where it will effectively get rid of a lot of opponents at once. That's just a tactically sound decision. It's no different than using an AoE spell when the players group closely together, except the dogs are weaker and better targets. –  Tridus Jun 26 at 17:17
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I would amend "the Kill the Dogs" suggestion. Instead of killing all of them at once, kill or permanently maim one of them. This gives the player a chance to realize that dogs are not up to facing tough encounters without the brutality of slaughtering several animals. Ideally, the player will see they can't use dogs as flesh shields without a high body count, and will decide to keep the dogs out of harms way, that is, at home, while they go adventuring. –  Martin Carney Jun 26 at 17:54
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@G0BLiN I suspect the GM is "pulling punches" regarding the dogs right now, avoiding killing them even when it makes sense. There's no way any normal dog should have survived even one encounter with things tough enough to challenge 5th-level PCs. Killing the yapping annoyance with an idle backhand would be one of the first things to do (especially since being flanked by dogs is equally bad mechanically and fictionally.) –  SevenSidedDie Jun 26 at 18:00
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@GoBLIN If my players hired 100 armed soldiers I would certainly kill off some. It's unrealistic to believe that they would all somehow survive in a harsh adventurer-grade environment. Same goes for the dogs. –  Duncan Matheson Jun 26 at 23:39

One solution which worked very well in some of my groups, was to delegate the management of the animals to the other players - make sure that they understand that this is not another character they control, it's just a way to help them remain more involved while simultaneously reducing some of the combat management chores from you as the DM.

The guidelines for the animals behavior should be pretty straightforward, but have some flexibility, and you can always overrule or veto a player's decision if it's cheesy or unhelpful for the game.
I found that even in groups of fairly young players (ages 8-9), they usually handled this really well - this help make the animals more than just walking tactical buffs / cannon-fodder, as over time each animal gained certain signature characteristics and a memorable name, which in turn enriched the game experience.

I agree with Tridus on the "enforcing the Handle Animal rules" and "following party logistics", and I'll add that you can make the party more aware of their pack of guard dogs outside of combat - it makes guard duty much more interesting/easy, adds some color and possible complications to food-breaks and hunting, but will make certain actions - mostly social and traveling - much more complicated or even impossible ("you can't bring all these mongrels to the high-priest's chamber!", "They've ruined the royal wedding cake!" and "erm - yeah, we can use the rope to climb that cliff - any idea how we lift the dogs?").

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More as an addendum to other answers; when designing the encounter, factor in the CR of the dogs. Whatever their reasoning, the player presumably enjoys having the animals available but where an Animal Companion or Familiar is part of the character a trained animal is not. Making the challenge harder based on having friendly NPCs (that aren't part of the characters' shticks) will discourage them from doing it for power-gaming reasons. The 3.5 multiclassing rules are comparatively lenient and the books are littered with examples of things that cost the PCs XP to acquire, so if you want to balance it without rebalancing all your encounters you can enforce one of those options for effective animal companions.

But if the players really just want to have epic army-sized battles anyway you should either talk to them about what sort of game you want to run or accept that this is what you're players find fun and run with it; throwing bigger encounters at them. If that's what they really want, though, I would highly suggest moving over to 4e since that system is designed for balanced combat and makes encounter design (and handling large encounters) much easier. I think there's even a mass-combat supplement somewhere.

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